VOL. 130 | NO. 70 | Friday, April 10, 2015
The Press Box
Grizzlies Find Themselves – At Least for 48 Glorious Minutes
By Don Wade
That happy butt-slap Zach Randolph gave himself galloping down the court in the midst of the most jubilant night at The Grindhouse in months?
He did not steal that from Marc Gasol.
“He got that from me,” Randolph said, his laugher filling the Grizzlies’ locker room after a 110-74 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans restored faith for the masses and perhaps to the players themselves.
For the moment – and that’s how we have to phrase everything in these end days of the Western Conference playoff race – the Grizzlies’ victory moved them back into a tie with the Houston Rockets atop the Southwest Division standings.
The Grizzlies and Rockets went to bed Wednesday night, April 7, with identical 53-25 records and each team having four games left. For the Grizzlies, their next three come on the road: at Utah, in Los Angeles against the Clippers and at Golden State before ending the season with an April 15 home game vs. Indiana.
So, no, odds are not great the Grizzlies win out. But that’s for you and me to say. Point guard Mike Conley was conceding nothing after the return of the team that pre-All-Star break looked like a bona fide contender to go to the NBA Finals.
“We want to win (the division championship) and put a banner up here in FedExForum,” Conley said. “In order to do that, we gotta win every game. That’s the plan. Nothing else you can do, go win.
“But I’m just happy with how we’ve been playing lately,” Conley added. “We’ve been playing motivated and with a sense of urgency and we’re not worried about anything on the outside.”
Even so, the Grizzlies are just 14-11 since the All-Star break and 3-3 over the last six games.
But the temperature did seem to change, and Randolph and Gasol were at the heart of it. Z-Bo posted a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds and handed out six assists. Gasol also had six assists while scoring 15 points with eight rebounds.
Just as telling: Pelicans star power forward Anthony Davis only got off nine shots, finishing with 12 points (half his season average) and six rebounds. Gasol and Z-Bo were the bullies and Davis, even at 6-foot-10 and brimming with talent, was the kid getting pushed around.
The first thing Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger mentioned in his post-game press conference was that the team had come out with “energy” and “focus” and sustained for 48 minutes. The next thing he said was that Gasol and Randolph had “set the tone.”
Randolph, of course, had reminded everyone after the dismal effort and loss at home to Washington last Saturday that setting a tone begins by “throwing (the ball) to the hand” even when teams are collapsing on the paint.
Z-Bo took a mere five shots against the Wizards and the Grizzlies are never going to win that way. Against the Pelicans, Z-Bo was his Z-Bo-best – mad and giddy at the same time.
“When Z-Bo puts his mean face on and plays like that, we’re tough to beat,” Conley said. “So we just gotta give him the ball.”
Now the question is, was this the start of a trend or a mere flashback?
“We have to go out to Utah and do the same thing over again,” said Gasol, who not so long ago was exorcising on-court demons by ripping his jersey. “That’s the fun part.”
Or, at times, the frustrating part. But for a night, yes, Grizzlies basketball was again fun and the frustration was pushed to the fringes.
What the Grizzlies do on this three-game road trip will not just determine their playoff seeding – anywhere from second to sixth – but also form their psyche heading into the postseason.
“We just want to make the statement that we’re here and we’re not that team from early March that was playing so sluggish,” Conley said.
And if they can do that, we have not seen the last of the galloping butt-slap.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News.